Over the course of a year, we at Common Sense Education look at a dizzying number of edtech tools. In the constantly changing and ever-expanding edtech world, it can be all too easy for great tools to drift into the shadows -- which is why we like to go back each year and shed some light on those hidden gems worthy of teacher's limited time. Here's our list of edtech diamonds in the rough that sparkled in 2015:
Price: Free, Paid; Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux; Grades: 7–12
Extrasolar is a free alternate-reality game (ARG) that uses an authentic context to build valuable skills and offers ample opportunity for extension activities in science or ELA classrooms. It also features an element of mystery throughout gameplay, which will keep kids coming back for more.
Price: $3.99; Platform: iOS; Grades: Pre-K–K
With wonderfully fun and simple graphics, Metamorphabet takes kids on an enchanting journey to discover the letters of the alphabet while getting them to think about how their sounds form words.
Price: Free; Platform: Web; Grades: 3–12
For the 1-to-1 or BYOD classroom, Formative is a clever, teacher-minded digital-response tool that offers a flexible and attractive solution for gathering a variety of student response types on demand.
Price: Free, Paid; Platform: Web; Grades: 6–12
Chalkup is the rare LMS whose design centers on ease of use. It also doesn't sacrifice functionality with its myriad of opportunities to maximize learning, collaboration, and organization.
Price: Free, Free to Try, Paid; Platform: Web; Grades: 6–12
Zygote Body makes the most of its powerful visuals and great interactive features to help students learn the names and functions of body parts. Beyond being a simple anatomy tool, it provides a powerful opportunity for kids to annotate their own images and quiz themselves in an engaging visual way.
Price: $2.99; Platform: iPad; Grades: K–2
ELA and science join forces in Ocean Forests, a great resource for introducing ecosystems to young learners. Kids can immerse themselves in dazzling underwater worlds while building their vocabularies and learning about marine life through beautiful, meaningful graphics.
Price: $4.99; Platform: iPad; Grades: 4–8
As its name implies, Starting Shakespeare is an excellent resource for Shakespearian beginners. Through its expertly acted scenes and thought-provoking activities, it goes from intimidating to fascinating.
Price: Free; Platform: Web; Grades: 9–12
Parable of the Polygons is an interactive website that stimulates thought and discussion around the connection between people's biases and segregation. The interactive games help students see and understand how “harmless choices can make a harmful world.”
Price: Free, Paid; Platform: Web; Grades: 9–12
Short videos, photo essays, and articles give students a window onto diverse life experiences around the world. From Alaskan fishers to Mongolian nomads struggling to preserve their way of life, these valuable stories situate day-to-day events within a larger, historical context.
Price: $9.99; Platform: Windows, Mac; Grades: 4–12
Elegy for a Dead World is an exploration game where kids flex their creative muscles and write a diary to track what they observe. The landscapes of three ancient civilizations inspired by British romantic poets provide an eerie but beautiful backdrop to fuel students' writing.
Price: Free to Try, Paid; Platform: iPad; Grades: 4–12
CueThink's social approach to problem solving promotes deep math learning alongside communication and collaboration skill building. With its four-step problem-solving strategy, kids put their heads together and focus on the mechanics of problem solving rather than solely on the solutions.
Price: $9.99; Platform: iPad; Grades: 3–6
Much more than a digital textbook, Earth Primer is a highly interactive tool that teaches kids the basics of earth science. Throughout its five chapters, kids create volcanoes, push tectonic plates, form glaciers, and simulate the forces of nature with the swipe of a fingertip.